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Learn how to develop the best possible relationship with your manager to ensure success and visibility for you and your team.

Growing and being impactful as a leader isn’t just about having successful “downward” relationships with your reports. Maintaining a good relationship with your own manager is equally important for you and your team. Here's why.

The importance of managing up

It’s likely that good managers already know the core tenets of mentorship, holding useful 1:1s, and prioritizing workload to maximize their team’s output. Usually, they know that this requires careful adaptation of their managing style so that each individual grows and succeeds together with their peers.

However, even the best managers can overlook the importance of putting an equal amount of energy into the relationship that they have with their own manager. That upwards relationship can be a blind spot. Without nurturing this relationship, your team may suffer in the long term from reduced visibility, involvement, and exposure to opportunities and information.

A good relationship with your manager is about much more than just sharing information and status updates. Even in a perfect organization, where all information flows transparently and everyone knows everything that’s going on, actively sharing your progress, ideas, and opinions upwards will benefit your team and also your own career.

No surprises

As a baseline, aim for a relationship with your manager where there are absolutely no surprises. This means sharing both good news and bad news. As you probably already know, the worst feeling as a manager is being caught off guard by a big hairy problem. It should be unsurprising that the same would be true for your own manager as well. 

Think about ways in which you can ensure that your manager has all of the information they need from you and your team. Ask them their preferred means and how often they would like to be informed of:

  • Progress on the projects that you are accountable for (good and bad)
  • Something critical happening, such as a production outage or a staff member wanting to quit
  • The team’s performance (good and bad)
  • Administrative items, such as vacations, expense requests, or any other items that you’d put in the “unexciting but necessary” bucket

With your manager’s preferences in mind, you can then think about how to deliver that information. This might be through written weekly updates – these should take you no more than 15 minutes to write and five minutes for your manager to read. Booking a recurring time in your calendar to write out these updates will help you stay on top of them.

This has two additional side effects: 

  • It covers all of your status updates away from your 1:1 time, which as you know, is precious. It also frees up that space to talk about wider and more interesting topics that emerge in synchronous conversation. 
  • It helps you organize your own brain. Regularly journaling what your team is up to will help you step back and look at what’s happening from a broader perspective.

Building your trust battery

With the baseline of no surprises covered, and with your written updates allowing for more space in your 1:1 meetings, you can move on to step two: building your trust battery with your manager. Trust – both ways – is essential to having a relationship that benefits you, your manager, and your team. 

Gaining trust with your manager comes from running your team well and keeping them in the loop. Try to actively see things from their perspective: what’s important to them? What worries them? What are they excited about?

I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to lead with questions that “lift the lid” on their world. These can be questions like:

  • What’s top of your mind this week?
  • What do you think our most important project is right now?
  • What’s worrying you at the moment?
  • What’s the first thing you do when you start working each Monday?

Not only does this make your manager’s job a little easier (they don’t need to provide all of the material whenever you speak), but it also allows you to drive the relationship and find out information that can help your own team. 

Moreover, it can provide opportunities for your own growth. Anything that’s falling on your manager’s plate that they are struggling to get done can become a chance for you to get involved: you can have work delegated to you, which you can complete together. They’re reviewing the quarterly uptime metrics? Perhaps you can assist them while using the opportunity to find out how the process works and where the information gets pulled from. They’re doing some interviews? Perhaps you can help by reviewing CVs or shadowing them. 

This strategy may sound simple, but it can come to define career tracks, improve hiring processes, and much more. It just takes some willingness to ask and it feeds the flywheel of building trust and knowing more.

Moving on up

Building your trust battery, alongside actively exploring and helping your manager with their job will demonstrate your own abilities. And with this scaffolding in place of being a trusted and reliable direct report, you can work with your manager to pave a way toward more growth and opportunity for you and your team.

If the company is going through a growth phase, you might be able to pitch ideas that mean you can expand the size of your team and remit. You might even be the first to know about interesting and innovative projects that are coming down the line.

Managing upwards is critical because the upper levels of companies are built on trust, not process. If you’re aiming for a leadership position in the future, then you don’t have to wait to build that muscle. You can start right away using the techniques above. 

You’ll be surprised how many doors will open for you.

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3 ways to make your team's work more visible
3 ways to make your team's work more visible